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LGA - Radical new proposals to drive down smoking rates and save billions of pounds unveiled by councils

Radical new proposals are being outlined by councils to drive down smoking rates and save the public purse billions of pounds.

In a key report published today (Wednesday), called 'Tackling tobacco and nicotine dependency', the Local Government Association (LGA) says it is vital the next government makes it a priority to use existing money better to tackle smoking. The launch of the report coincides with the LGA's annual health conference in central London. There are 80,000 deaths from smoking and a cost of up to £5 billion in treatment annually.

The LGA's report outlines a raft of measures which councils would like to take to tackle smoking. It is proposing that these should be paid for by reinvesting a portion of existing duty on tobacco. These include:

  • Allowing trading standards teams to do more proactive work with shopkeepers to ensure they understand the law about under-age sales, how to avoid illegal sales and what fines they could potentially face;
  • Enabling councils to work more closely with Customs officers to cut the public use of illegal tobacco;
  • Carrying out more preventative work in schools, colleges and community settings to raise awareness about the harm smoking causes;
  • Bolster established forums with local businesses to ensure stop smoking programmes are more widespread.

Councils are well ahead of government targets for reducing smoking rates. In March 2011, the Government called for smoking levels for adults to be reduced by the end of 2015 to 18.5 per cent from 21.2 at the time. Most recent official figures suggest that the habit's prevalence among adults fell from 19.8 per cent in 2012 to 18.7 per cent in 2013.

Councils have had considerable success with relatively limited amounts of resources with which to fund smoking prevention and tackle illegal tobacco. This includes initiating stop smoking campaigns, halting underage sales and prosecuting producers and sellers of counterfeit and illegal tobacco products. But they should be able to significantly ramp up these efforts, benefiting millions more and saving the public purse billions.

Health budgets are limited and councils are faced with competing priorities. Much of those budgets already go into costly treatment associated with mandatory services, which councils have to provide, accounting for over half the budget. This means there is relatively little money left for councils to tackle smoking.

That is why councils are calling for a fifth of existing duty raised on tobacco to support council-run grassroots initiatives with a proven track record. This would create a £2 billion fund to help millions of smokers cut down or quit.

Today's report forms part of the LGA's campaign 'Investing in our nation's future', which sets out what the next government needs to do in its first 100 days after May's general election by radically devolving power to local areas. The campaign outlines a range of policies which, if implemented, will save the public purse £11 billion, tackle the country's housing crisis, ensure every child has a place at a good school, reduce long-term unemployment, address the pothole backlog and improve the nation's health.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said:

"Councils, who are now responsible for public health, are well placed to help and support people quitting smoking and tackle illegal tobacco, saving health services billions of pounds in the long-run and ensuring people live longer. Smoking claims 80,000 lives and costs the public purse up to £5 billion annually.

"Local authorities are already running a wide range of innovative schemes to help people stub out smoking. But they have a limited health budget with competing priorities. By putting some of the existing tobacco duty to better use, we could do so much more.

"This is why we are calling on government to help people live healthier lives and tackle the harm caused by tobacco by reinvesting a fifth of existing VAT raised on cigarettes.

"This extra money would enable them to ramp up their efforts and really focus on prevention, which is the key. For each smoker that is helped to quit, an average of £900 is saved in future treatment costs.

"Additional resources would enable councils to respond to the specific health care needs of their communities in ways that they know will be effective. This means working with key partners like the police and fire services and raising awareness in places like schools, colleges and children's centres."

Case studies

Luton Borough Council

Luton offers council staff who smoke free nicotine replacement therapy to help them quit or cut down. Stop smoking advisers at Live Well Luton use a carbon monoxide monitor to assess levels of addiction. Live Well Luton is a free support service for local people and has helped over 1,200 smokers quit in 2013/14.

North Somerset Council

North Somerset 'support to stop' smoking service started in 2003. Since 2005, nearly 22,500 people have accessed the service and over half of those have stopped smoking. In an attempt  to reduce the number of young people taking up  smoking a voluntary ban on smoking in all of the parks has now been introduced with colourful signs designed by children and  details of the  support available to smokers.

Liverpool City Council

In Liverpool, attempts have been made to break the cycle of parents and children who smoke by working closely with services accessed by families such as early education, childcare health and family support in the most deprived areas. Evaluation of the scheme has shown that just over half of smokers accept a referral to the service – this includes both help with quitting and support in making homes smoke free through steps such as smoking outside.

Tower Hamlets

To increase awareness in Tower Hamlets, the NHS and council have been working in partnership reminding smokers and businesses that the ban on smoking in public buildings and some outdoor areas applies to them. Information leaflets have been distributed to businesses by environmental health officers, while using this opportunity to engage businesses to understand the health risks of using tobacco. Talks have also been given to local students.

London Borough of Wandsworth

The council is leading on implementing a five-year tobacco control plan, including enforcement action against retailers that continue to sell tobacco to children, as well as practical support to help people quit through its Stop Smoking services.

Notes to editors

  1. The cost to the NHS of treating smoking-related illness is estimated to be up to £5.2 billion.
  2. Taxation of tobacco contributed £9.7 billion to HM Treasury in 2013/14. However, the wider economic costs top £13 billion once factors such as lost productivity, cleaning up of cigarette butts and smoking-related house fires are taken into account.
  3. UK household expenditure on tobacco at current prices has nearly quadrupled from £4.8 billion in 1980 to £18.9 billion in 2013. Nonetheless, cigarettes are much more affordable today than they were in the 1990s because tobacco duty rates have failed to keep pace with rises in income.
  4. Helping smokers stop is extremely cost-effective. The cost per life saved from a comprehensive treatment is £900.
  5. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 'Promoting Stop Smoking Services'


Matthew Cooper, Senior Media Relations Officer
Local Government Association
Telephone: 020 7664 3007
Email: matthew.cooper@local.gov.uk
Media Office (for out-of-hours contact): 020 7664 3333
Local Government House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ

Channel website: https://www.icaew.com

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